Four-decade-old sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama Republican Roy Moore are playing a major role for voters in his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, but nine days ahead of the election two major polls are split whether he is ahead of Democrat Doug Jones.
A CBS News/YouGov poll on Sunday said Moore, twice deposed from the Alabama Supreme Court for failing to adhere to federal court rulings, is ahead of Jones, a former federal prosecutor, by a 49-to-43 percent margin among likely voters. A day earlier, The Washington Post-Schar School survey showed Jones ahead, 50-47.
The December 12 contest has been roiled by accusations from two women who alleged that Moore, when he was a local prosecutor in early 30s, sexually abused them when they were teenagers, while other women, now also in their 50s, said that Moore pursued them for dates when they were teens.
The CBS poll said that Republicans, by a 71-17 percent margin, think the allegations are false and that they believe Democrats and the media are behind the accusations. One of the accusers, one of whom was 14 at the time, first told her account in the Post, while a second woman held a news conference. The Post's poll similarly showed Republicans' disbelief about the allegations, with fewer than one in six Republican-leaning likely voters believing that Moore made unwanted sexual advances against the girls.
The CBS poll said half of Moore's supporters are backing him because they want a senator who would cast votes for conservative causes, rather than because they think he is the best candidate in the election. The Post said its survey showed that a quarter of voters say moral conduct will be the deciding factor if how they decide to vote, with Jones winning such voters over Moore by a 67-30 margin.
The election is for the last three years of the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned it to join President Donald Trump's Cabinet as attorney general, the country's top law enforcement official.
Trump has said Jones would prove to be an unwanted liberal vote in the Senate representing a deeply conservative state. Other key Republicans have called for Moore to drop out of the race, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan and two former Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain.
Some Republicans say that Moore, if he wins and is seated in the Senate, should then be immediately expelled because of the sexual misconduct allegations. McConnell on Sunday said it is up to Alabama voters to decide the election and that should Moore win, it would be up to the Senate Ethics Committee to consider the women's accusations.